All Together Now

Another day, another rehearsal. More study, more practicing. And for all but the most independent and reclusive researchers or out-and-out hermits, this means work done in company. We need each other. The best progress is usually possible only with the support and aid of collaborators and fellow workers in all kinds of related tasks. We build on the work of our predecessors and colleagues; we stand on the shoulders of others.digital illustration from a photo

Nowhere is the necessity of such mutuality, of working very literally in concert, truer than in choirs and orchestras. I have written here plenty of times about the privileges and joys of my life in being able to attend not only so many wonderful concerts but the rehearsals where they are prepared. Beyond that, though, I feel fortunate to have the example and reminder constantly before me of an approach that can be tremendously beneficial in all kinds of life’s activities: surrounding myself with all of the resources that smart and able and collegial, supportive fellow laborers can bring to the task.digital illustration from a photo

Time alone is valuable. It offers all sorts of useful room for quiet reasoning and planning, uninterrupted cogitation and problem-solving, and the mental and emotional space to put all of those aspects to work for me. But there would be little in the way of material with which I can do any of that if it weren’t for the rich stores of fact and imagination prepared by all of those who have preceded me in any task I choose, and there can be only the kind of progress that my own limited stores of wisdom and experience, skill and talent and imagination can cobble together if I don’t work in tandem with others. So I am happy to enlist all of the company I can, and aim for working in harmony toward whatever purposes we can dream and achieve. Then, perhaps, my projects will have a chance of culminating in choruses of satisfied approbation.

A Choral Symphony

Listening in on rehearsals for the new Jake Heggie Ahab Symphony a companion to his opera Moby-Dick), I wrote. Tonight (24 April 2013), if you’re not able to attend in person, you can watch and listen to the live streamed performance of the world premiere at 8 pm CST at this link, featuring tenor Richard Croft, the University of North Texas Symphony Orchestra and Grand Chorus and conductor David Itkin: http://recording.music.unt.edu/live. In the meantime, from me:digital artworkCharacteristic Frequencies

Light, to begin, as though it were the dawn,

And whispered voices breathed themselves awake,

And sentience would rise and fall and make

A storm, turn faint again, scarce moving on–

On lyric waves these messages were sent,

Foretelling danger and the pangs of grief,

Then, gentler, sing of comfort and relief,

Follow each graceful passage where it went–

This, while the song comes lapping up at me,

Comes pulling like the most insistent tide,

Whether the sound grows deep or thin and wide,

Draws me on deeper in this sonic sea–

Seek me no more, but let me run aground,

My soul sunk in these waves, and listening, drowned.digital artwork

Good Conduct Medal

graphite sketchesEvery season of music has its marvels, masters and moments. In my life of following a conductor and his fellow artists around, I am privileged to be on hand for more such fine pleasures than most, and I never forget that this is a great bit of good fortune indeed.

Still, not every instant is guaranteed to be a glowing example of the highest and best of the musical arts. After all, there is all of the practice that must come first, and to be fair, no amount of practice can assure us of perfection. Mistakes happen; if  we’re lucky, learning happens as a result. But the distance between first-try and performance may be a long one indeed, and sometimes the distance isn’t quite long enough.

So I am grateful all the more when I attend a performance and hear something magical and meaningful and magnificent. I know that it took the performers a lot of concerted effort to come from wherever they started the process to this peak, and I am all the happier and richer for it. I know and appreciate, too, that it takes massive amounts of effort and energy and other resources on the part of organizers, managers, fans, logistics handlers, boards, angels, financiers, educators, ushers, ticket dealers, audience members, and all of those other assorted friends of the arts needed to make this work pay off in any way beyond the artists’ own satisfaction in the process, and that’s yet another level, another realm of generosity entirely that makes my little spot in the aural universe fuller.graphite sketches

Most of all I give my fervent thanks to all of the singers, players and conductors who strive to make this miracle happen again and again. Without your dedicated pursuit of the musical muse, there would be no such happy task for all of the friends of music who are not musicians ourselves. And unquestionably, the world would be a far less beautiful place.graphite drawing

May I Suggest . . .

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The University of North Texas Collegium Singers in dress rehearsal for their performance at the Berkeley Festival of early music, June 2012, Dr. Richard Sparks conducting. Yes, *that* Richard Sparks.

MUSIC.

Having had my senses immersed in the bath of fall season-opener concerts of all sorts lately, to the literal tune of hundreds of voices and instruments in symphonies, marches, art songs, musical theater melodies, electronica, motets, chaconnes, folk songs, choral masses, lullabies and all sorts of other lovely music, I am reminded as always at this time of year that such an intense schedule of events, however fabulous and rich they are, can be exhausting. More importantly, though, I am reminded that it’s also invigorating, inspiring and often utterly thrilling.

It’s also the time of year when the European choral magazine for which I proofread and text-check translations goes back into full production for the year. The articles and news items are all full of reviews of the summer season’s festivals and conferences and the amazing machinery that underlies these productions, from choosing and ordering music scores through civic action, political efforts, fundraising, singer scholarships, educational programs for participants and audiences, performers’ uniform shipping, young composers’ symposia, etc, and right on down to whether ‘civilian’ supporters of the group are allowed to arrange the music stands or chairs onstage if the local symphony hall union members are on strike. At the heart of it all is such a profound passion for music that millions of people worldwide, including those from countries and cultures one might be surprised to find even having the time or energy amid their economic, social or yes, war-related battles to sing and to listen to singers. If there’s a genuinely possible force for world peace, my friends, it may well be in music.

More personally, it’s music that is a central force for my own happiness, for a large number of reasons. Every one of those listed above comes into my own life and being regularly. But as you know, I am partnered for said life with a musician, and so the whole topic comes that much more sharply into focus. Music has been a glue for us two from the very beginning of ‘us’. Ask our mutual dear friend, a fellow musician, if I were single and might therefore be ‘available’? Check. Collaborate over a large-scale music performance and its visual presentation as a way to get to know each other a bit, hovering around each other during rehearsals and preparation? Check. Go on a first date to a Mark Morris Dido and Aeneas dance performance [yes, truly spectacular, by the way] for which my suitor had prepared the singers? Check!

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Since thousands vie for the dozens of positions in the final selected groups, high school students in Texas undergo a rigorous preparation for All-State Choir auditions, studying the literature in workshops and camps across the state each summer to compete in their local and regional trials before the year of All-State even arrives. This is the UNT group working in the summer of 2012, rehearsing in the camp organized and run by Dr. Alan McClung, assisted by UNT students and graduates and conducted each year by a different guest conductor–this year, by my spouse. What can I say, it’s what he does. And what I love to hear and see.

What followed is, was and ever shall be musicocentric. Our honeymoon (more about that in a future post) was built, in fact, around my fiance’s conducting gig–a gig including, naturally, our aforementioned Dual BFF as accompanist–at a choral festival in Veszprém, Hungary, arranged under the auspices of the parent organization that spawned the magazine for which I still do editorial duties, if you can follow that sprawling, meandering melody line. One might say that it all began with music and went racing straight downhill from there. Or, if one feels as I do, that music has brought uncountable joys into my life from earliest memory to the present, and will sustain me until the end. In any case, one of the clear high points of musical pleasure has been attending the myriad concerts, events, conferences, performances, and festivals that bring musicians and music lovers together all over the world. A huge number of our favorite people are those whom we’ve met in and through all of this music-related stuff. We have deeply loved ‘family’ literally around the world whom we’ve met and with whom we’ve bonded through musical acquaintance.

If you haven’t done so yet, or not recently enough, may I suggest that you ‘get thee to’ the nearest conference, symposium or festival involving music as soon as you’re able. If, like me, you aren’t an active participant, know that every artist needs his or her cheerleaders and fans and supporters, and that your mutual love of the art will mean more than that you stood onstage during the work or the bows. Yes, even non-musicians can and should pitch in–even those with no sense of pitch can fold programs, stuff envelopes, recruit audience members and donors and board members and political supporters, can drive the shuttle that carries the singers and their accompanists from venue to venue at the festival, and can buy tickets and bask in the glorious sounds from town square to church nave to school ‘cafetorium’ to symphony hall and shout a resounding Bravissimi! to all and sundry.

Beyond that, though, the immersion of being in a place where a huge number of people, participants and supporters and happy observers alike, have come together from a wide range of territory for an extended period of days solely for love of music–that is a wholly different and magical experience everyone should have the opportunity to enjoy at least once. So I commend them to you, the small-scale community events offered by your local affiliated high schools and the international events hosted by long-lived organizations in exotic places and every variation on the theme you can find. I promise you will leave with a song in your heart and memories to last you to when all of your other memories have faded to dust and perhaps beyond. If music be the food of love, play on! For though in this line opening his play ‘Twelfth Night‘ Shakespeare exposed the Duke of Orsino’s conviction that being surfeited with love (in this instance, via its musical surrogate) would cure him of his hunger for it, I think that quite the opposite is true: if they are excellent, the more we experience them and are filled with them, the more we crave both love and music.

Food of that sort for thought: visit first the websites and then the events offered by your local choirs, bands, orchestras, theaters, and performance companies. My own favorites are hosted by professional organizations of music educators, conductors and performers simply because those are the ones I’ve naturally had the privilege to attend, as consort to my musical prince charming, and these all offer performances by top artists that are open to the public, sometimes even with free admission. Explore them! The organization that ‘sponsored’, or inspired and was the jumping-off point for, our honeymoon with its Singing Week in Veszprém–with its half-dozen ateliers conducted by musicians from Europe and North America and singers and whole choirs from all over as well–was what is now called the European Choral Association-Europa Cantat and it hosts a wide variety of such choral events throughout each year, with a focal youth choir festival occurring triennially in places like Passau, Leicestershire, Barcelona, Utrecht, Torino (2012), and Pécs, Hungary (a locale to be repeated in 2015).

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Just this month, the newly minted University Singers at UNT performed their first concert of the season with my spouse at the helm. If you live in or near a college town, you’ll find endless opportunities for attending all sorts of musical events, many of them free and most of them truly outstanding–after all, these people are all here gaining expertise for what may be their whole life’s passion, and performers need great audiences too.

Pop, folk, jazz, rock, blues, punk, bluegrass, Early Music, all flavors and kinds of music and individual organizations from the Oldtime Fiddlers [I once got to run the stage lighting for their competition in Washington state–fabulous fiddling, huge fun and even some fantastic yodeling!] to the Verona Opera [I can say from my one experience there that genuine opera under the stars is something not to be missed, even if it’s still 40°C when the singing ends in the middle of the night]: there is something for practically any musical taste out there, and many of them that I enjoy immensely are included among these. My personal pet organizations among the professional gang also include many others: IFCM (International Federation for Choral Music), ACDA (American Choral Directors Association), ACCC (Association of Canadian Choral Communities), TMEA (Texas Music Educators Association), Chorus America, the Boston (odd-numbered years in June), Berkeley (even-numbered years in June), and Vancouver (annually in August) Early Music festivals, and ever so much more.

Lullabies and Parallel Universes

photoI have said that music transports me to Other Places. Indeed, all art has that potential for me, for internal travel. It’s one of the great joys of art. As I write this, I’m listening to a live broadcast of this evening’s concert from the Swedish Radio Choir‘s (Radiokören, or RK) concert, one that travels particularly far and wide–and deep–in my heart and mind for a whole lot of reasons.

The note from chief conductor Peter Dijkstra:

Tonight at 1930h I’m doing a concert, live on Swedish radio SVT2 and on Webradio (http://sverigesradio.se/sida/default.aspx?programid=3989, at least in the US) , with the Swedish Radio Choir and Orchestra with an ‘alternative Passionprogram’:
Ligeti – Lux Aeterna
Bach – BWV 12 Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen
Poulenc – Stabat Mater
Highly recommended!!!!

Right at this moment, the radio host is interviewing Maestro Dijkstra, and hearing both of their voices, I feel almost as though I’m in the concert hall watching them chat onstage, myself. I’m quite sure I recognize the lady’s voice as that of the same well-spoken broadcaster who interviewed my husband when he was conducting on that same stage at Berwaldhallen at this time of year a few years ago for RK’s Vårkonsert, or Spring Concert. Peter Dijkstra had fairly recently signed on as RK’s chief conductor at the time, and was in town part of the time rehearsing the choir; it’s amazing how quickly the miles disappear when we hear familiar voices or sounds–and the Radio Choir’s distinctive choral sonorities are certainly a part of that equation for me, as well. Their recordings have been for decades among those most widely recognized worldwide for consistently outstanding quality and depth in an incredible range of literature.photo

So here I sit, listening to music sung by a beloved choir and conducted by a truly fine, familiar conductor, and despite being at my desk in my own house, I am traveling to worlds and galaxies far beyond the view of my window. The György Ligeti piece is a perfect vehicle. It’s best known for being that magical, eerie and ethereal sound heard in the famous scene of approach to the monolith in Stanley Kubrick‘s seminal film 2001: A Space Odyssey, and on a personal level is memorable and imaginatively inspiring even more directly because I have heard a couple of groups conducted by my spouse, in both rehearsal and concert, of this famously difficult piece. Each time, the piece itself transforms the performers as they work to ‘get inside’ and master it, and in turn is transformed by their performances, by the acoustic and atmosphere of the place where it’s being sung, and by the expectant and electric energy of audiences who are constantly challenged and awakened by its dramatics, both distinctive and subtle.

Johann Sebastian Bach and a great many of his works are widely familiar to audiences all around as well, and both in spite and because of their very familiarity bring us to an array of places remembered and imagined each time we hear them sung or played. The more famous and oft-played a composer’s works, the more variants we’re likely to come across in style and interpretation, in levels of technical expertise and period accuracy, and especially in the performances’ potential for transportation. I find it profoundly intriguing to see and hear how deeply performers can immerse themselves in the math and mystery, the dancing joy and bottomless grief and resounding laughter and historical drama of Bach, and to experience the accompanying journeys offered to me as a listener. I go to places of Biblical and Apocryphal history, yes, but also to more abstract aspects of the music and the texts: to dark forests and sunless night, and to soaring starry space; to drought-quenching fountains and streams; to realms of green and warm and welcoming respite and meditation.photoThe Stabat Mater of Francis Poulenc, in his characteristic tonalities and performed here with exquisite power and emotional richness (and with a supernal soprano soloist’s voice soaring over the top of the intense and wildly beautiful waves of the choral singing) pulls us into a specific story, but is nonetheless large enough in its musical generosity to allow visions of many other places and states of being. This, too, is a strength of music and of outstanding moments of swimming in it–that it allows us to transcend what is and see, hear and feel what may be.

Music can fill me with passion, and it can also empty me so completely of passion that it lulls me into the abyss of restful peace where I feel nothing can touch me at all.

The images in this post are not based on any of the music in this program at all but rather are documentation of one of the small worlds I myself created a little while (well, a teenager’s lifetime) ago. I wanted to make a place that would act as a safe haven, fantasyland, and visual lullaby for the baby boy my sister was carrying. More than seventeen years later, our younger nephew his brother still has the same little woodland clearing in what’s now his room and seems not to be overly anxious to erase it under a more sophisticated or grown-up paint scheme and decor. So I suppose that perhaps it still offers for him adequately what I myself will never grow too old or mature to want: transportation to other places and planes, times, spaces, moods, hauntings and hopes and happiness. I hope that the luminous-paint stars that I sprinkled on that bedroom ceiling still light up after the lamps are turned off at night.photo

Oceans of Music

photoRecent weeks have seen our household in full music immersion. The casual observer or fly on the wall might be rather skeptical of the claim, when our home–other than occasional brief bursts of singing from my partner’s office while he’s studying a score–is, if anything, more silent than usual. That’s simply because the music is mainly taking us both elsewhere. And thanks to our practice of managing a one person/two places of employment, one car household economy by means of my sometimes chauffeuring him between gigs and staying through on the sidelines when possible, I get to share in the musical inundation.

It’s no surprise that a conductor, especially one who works in one of the largest university music programs on the continent and therefore has colleagues and students almost beyond the counting who offer musical rehearsals and programs well worth our sharing from morning until late every day right alongside and overlapping his own, would be so surrounded by sound. The Anglican church where he’s currently serving has, in addition, the average Sunday in which the choirs he conducts will sing anthems, Psalms and liturgical service music at two full morning Eucharistic services and one Evensong. All of this is, in fact, hardly unique among conductors, many of whom like him also do guest conducting, clinics and lectures and all of the adminis-trivia that accompany choral, educational, ecclesiastical and institutional operations everywhere. I’m still often astounded at what he manages to do, not only logistically but with continued thoughtful musical scholarship and grace.

And always, always, I am moved to gratitude that I’ve had the incredible good fortune to link my life with his, this person whom I not only like and love but also admire immensely for his integrity, artistry and good humor. On top of all this, I get to Go Along for the Ride and listen to it all.

So as things have gained momentum on the calendar chez nous (as they do cyclically in every household), I have been privileged to bathe in oceans’-worth of music to please my ears, to challenge my thinking, rejoice my heart, soothe my sorrows, ease my weariness, shake my complacency, and rock me gently on sonic waves of peace and beauty. I could do with a little more of that household silence, not to mention free time or sleep, and we can safely assume my spouse would welcome these ten times as eagerly. But I can’t think of what I’d willingly cross off the list from among what we’ve been hearing in the last number of weeks.

I always love listening in on rehearsals, whether with groups my husband’s conducting or otherwise, in part for the wonderful music I hear and in large part because, as a non-musician myself, I can enjoy nearly any music more if I’ve not only listened to it a few times to become more familiarized but, especially, if I’ve gotten a sense of what the singers and/or players are being told about the work–its origins, history, style, particular complexities, and so forth–and are being asked to do with it musically and interpretively. Each group of artists converges at an entirely different point in time in the performing arts, each and every time they rehearse or perform, because in addition to gradually improving or changing skill levels and building affinities with the works in question, they each bring different degrees of their daily condition with them for the occasion: health, attitude, and the news of the last hour may color a performance and endanger or enrich it accordingly. All ages and levels of skill and experience and passion can have ‘off’ nights onstage or, conversely, magically exhilarating moments of unsurpassed attunement, somehow, with the universe.photo

I love actual performances, too, of course, where the high drama of potential crash-and-burn or apotheosis resides in every second of the concert, the recital, the act. The power that emerges from the performers nerving themselves and plunging wholeheartedly into the moment is a splendid spectacle and can transport us all to other places and planes. Not having the performance skills myself (nor the will or self-confidence to develop them as necessary), I am all the more aware of what’s at stake and how nearly incredible it is that great things come out of the effort so often. And, of course, that much more appreciative that there are those who can and will share such gifts with the rest of us.

What the last weeks have brought have included a huge range of such gifts. There was an outstanding high school choir whose fine conductors invited my husband to do an evening’s clinic with the singers on literature they’re preparing for a choral competition. Such joy and energy and responsiveness filling the room! Then, some of his sopranos and altos from one of the university choirs singing the lovely and yes, alluring ‘Sirènes‘ of Claude Debussy as guests on a university orchestra concert, calling all of us listeners to wreck our souls on the dangerous promontories of their imagined seashore. Two performances of the uni Symphony Orchestra in a showcase of some of the school’s powerhouse players, including a recently acquired, fabulous violinist who gave a mesmerizing performance of the Allegro moderato of Tchaikovsky‘s violin concerto (Op. 35) each time–once on campus, then at the Texas Music Educators’ Association conference 5 hours’ road-trip south, where if I weren’t musicked up enough lately I certainly could (and did) dive in among the over 25,000 musicians in attendance at the convention.

There was a delightful performance by a doctoral conducting student with his recital choir. Lots of rehearsals and warmups and services with the church choirs, including lovely works by William Byrd, Morten Lauridsen, Gregorio Allegri. Rehearsals with the university Chamber and Collegium (early music) choirs going on as always, and new ones beginning with the combined singers from Collegium and Dr. Jerry McCoy‘s outstanding A Cappella Choir whom my partner was preparing for performances of George Frideric Handel‘s oratorio ‘Theodora‘ under the baton of Maestro Graeme Jenkins of the Dallas Opera, along with the university’s Baroque Orchestra. Ash Wednesday was a road-tripping adventure, with the two of us working at home in the morning, heading to Dallas for him to warm up and conduct the choir in the noon Ash Wednesday service at the church, dashing back to the university for his afternoon Chamber Choir rehearsal, then back to Dallas for the 6 pm service and a following weekly choir rehearsal before going home back north for the night. But oh, so much lovely music sandwiched in between car races!

That was followed by Thursday and Friday nights’ ‘Theodora’ performances–3 hours of ecstatic music about agonizing trials, or good old life-and-death oratorio drama of Handel’s best sort–and then, yesterday’s Metropolitan Opera broadcast of ‘Ernani’, which I told you about in last evening’s post. Squeezed between concerts and rehearsals, a few pauses while at home spent on listening to a Canadian rock CD (yes, pretty listenable!) I just got as a comp for letting the musicians use my art for their CD cover, and especially on stealing bits of time to revisit our nephew’s punk band Honningbarna when I can. Upcoming is, oh, just more of the same: more beautiful liturgical music-making at the church; more rehearsals, recitals, and concerts at school and in town; another major musicians’ conference; the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, opera at the university and perhaps the One O’Clock Lab Band (the university’s top, Grammy-nominated Jazz ensemble), if we can somehow manage the time for it. Holy Week services (about 8 in 5 days, counting only the ones my husband’s conducting). More of the same.photoAnd yet it is music: never quite the same thing twice, nor the same experience of it. Always powerful, always waking up parts of me that I may have forgotten or not even known were there to be awakened. A constantly changing stream of sound-waves that in turn, become oceans of music to buoy me up, toss me around, pull me in, and carry me far, far away.